Over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, I watched a number of Downton Abbey episodes, watching the unfolding lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in post-Edwardian England. A lot of real human drama. Plenty of material for a serious meditation on the meaning and purpose of human life. And good British drama for an old Yankee.
One afternoon, however, I sat rather lazily in front of the fireplace and re-read Pope Benedict’s Christmas Message with its dire warnings that gay marriage is destroying “the essence of the human creature” and that gay marriage, like abortion, and euthanasia (I call them the contemporary Roman Catholic “intrinsic evil trinity”) is a threat to word peace. Then I put another log on the fire and switched back to Downton Abbey, where, amidst all the human joys, downfalls, hopes and sorrows, there was, of course no mention of the gay-marriage-abortion-euthanasia evil trinity.
Then a little insight.
What would happen, I wondered, if during the coming season of Lent neither the Pope nor any bishop would be allowed to use the words “gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia”…….and for U. S. bishops one could throw-in one more intrinsic evil no-no term: “birth control.”
Think about it.
If our bishops could not groan, protest, and cry-out about gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, and birth control, what would they talk about?
What message would our hierarchy proclaim for millions of people hungering for genuine spirituality? For a taste of the Divine? Would they be tongue-tied and speechless? Or would there be a new Pentecostal-type inspiration….little tongues of fire flickering over every episcopal miter?
Would young people turn, for a minute, from their smartphones and iPads, shaken by a new message?
Would our young people see visions and our elderly men and women dream good dreams? Would the Pope have something fresh and invigorating to “tweet” from his pontifical iPad?
As my favorite poet said…….
“Last year’s words belong to last year’s language
and next year’s words await another voice.”
Listening to Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” program on July 25th, I heard the voce of Catholic fundamentalism. It is a dangerously arrogant voice; and we hear it ever more frequently in episcopal rhetoric.
Bishop Blair believes firmly that the bishops have the truth and the LCWR sisters need to conform and adhere to it. No one in fact has all the truth; and we should all be in respectful dialogue. But dialogue for Bishop Blair is not genuine dialogue. For him it appears to be more like a monologue demanding loyal submission of intellect and will.
On the dialogue that the LCWR would like to have with the Vatican, Bishop Blair said in the NPR interview: “If by dialogue, they mean that the doctrines of the church are negotiable, and that the bishops represent one position and the LCWR represents another position and somehow we find a middle ground about basic church teaching on faith and morals, then no, I don’t think that’s the dialogue the Holy See would envision. But if it’s a dialogue about how to have the LCWR really educate and help the sisters appreciate and accept church teaching and to implement it in their discussions, and try to heal some of the questions or concerns they have about these issues, that would be the dialogue.”
When the subject of women’s ordination came up, the Toledo bishop made statements that are simply wrong. I will explain in a minute what I mean. First Bishop Blair’s statement: “The church doesn’t say that the ordination of women is not possible because somehow women are unfit to carry out functions of the priest, but because on the level of sacramental signs, it’s not the choice that our Lord made when it comes to those who act in his very person, as the church’s bridegroom. And you can say that sounds like a lot of poetry or you know, how do we know that’s true, but if you’re a Catholic, this is part of our sacraments and practice for two millennia, and it’s not just an arbitrary decision of male oppression over women.”
Now why the bishop is dead wrong.
(1) Jesus did not ordain ANYONE! In the church’s first century, ordination, as we know it, did not exist.
(2) There is now ample and clear historic evidence that demonstrates beyond a doubt that women did in fact preside at Eucharist in early Christian communities; and women were called “apostles” by St. Paul and other early church leaders.
(3) And (as I indicated in an earlier post) there is also solid historic evidence that women were ORDAINED and functioned as deacons and priests even into the Middle Ages.
Yes…..Fundamentalism is hardly confined to just Islamic religion and is found in all societies and religions, including Roman Catholic Christianity; and the virus of Roman Catholic fundamentalism is pernicious, self-righteous, and devilishly destructive….
Increasingly, Roman Catholic fundamentalism (one need only reflect on many a red-faced outburst from the Cardinal Archbishop of New York) is a form of organized anger in reaction to social and religious change.
Fundamentalists find change emotionally disturbing and dangerous. Cultural, personal, and institutional religious “certitudes” are shaken. Today’s Catholic fundamentalists, like Cardinal Raymond Burke wrapped in his medieval cappa magna (picture below) pushing to bring back the Latin liturgy of the Council of Trent, yearn to return to a utopian past or a golden age, purified of “dangerous” contemporary ideas and practices.
Todays Catholic fundamentalists, like supporters of Pope Benedict’s New Evangelization, have aggressively banded together in order to put things right again – according to “orthodox” principles. They want to get things back to “normal”….Or as Bishop Blair said: dialogue is “about how to have the LCWR really educate and help the sisters appreciate and accept church teaching.”
Today’s Catholic fundamentalists are still troubled by: (1) the cultural revolution of the 1960s that questioned all institutions and brought profound social, economic and political consequences that continue to this day; and (2) the impact and immense cultural changes generated by the much-needed reforms of Second Vatican Council.
Catholic fundamentalism is becoming a powerful movement in the church to restore uncritically pre-Vatican II structures and attitudes.
Here are some clear signs of contemporary Catholic fundamentalism:
(1) Nostalgia for a pre-Vatican II Golden Age, when it is assumed that the church never changed, was then a powerful force in the world, undivided by the post 1960s misguided devotees of the Vatican II values. In fact, we know for certain that the church and its teachings have often changed. Some church statements have been shown to be wrong and were repealed or allowed to lapse.
(2) A highly selective approach to what fundamentalists think pertains to church teaching and belief. Statements about sexual ethics, for instance, are obsessively affirmed. At the same time, papal, conciliar, or episcopal pronouncements on social justice are ignored or considered simply matters for debate.
(3) An exaggerated concern for accidentals, not for the substance of issues, e.g., the Cardinal Burkes stress Latin for the Eucharist, failing to see that this does not pertain at all to the church’s authentic tradition.
(4) Vehemence and intolerance in attacking people like LCWR who are striving to relate the Gospel to the world around them according to the insights and teachings of Vatican II.
(5) An elitist assumption that Catholic fundamentalists have a kind of supernatural authority and the right to pursue and condemn Catholics who disagree with them, especially “radical feminists” and theologians.
(6) A spirituality which overlooks the humanity, compassion, and mercy of Christ and stresses in its place an unbending and punishing taskmaster God.
Remember: Membership in Catholic fundamentalist groups is not a question of logic, but an often sincere, but misguided, search for meaning and belonging.
If we react to Catholic fundamentalists with heated expressions of anger we will only confirm them about the rightness of their beliefs.
Our best witness to the truths of our Catholic beliefs, as they continue to be explored and developed, is our own inner peace built on faith, charity, and concern for justice, especially among the most marginalized.
And a closing biblical refection:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28; cf. Mark 10:42-45 and Luke 22:25-27)
Pondering the US heatwave 2012, a good friend in Michigan just sent me a frightening article about climate change, written by Mark Bittman, an opinion columnist for the New York Times.
“The climate has changed,” Bittman writes, “and the only remaining questions may well be: a) how bad will things get, and b) how long will it be before we wake up to it.”
While thinking about people “waking up to how bad things really are,” another email popped on my screen. This one about Sister Pat Farrell, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Vice President of the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque, Iowa. Sister Pat had been interviewed by Terry Gross on her NPR program “Fresh Air.”
A few months ago, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as you recall, said Sister Pat’s LCWR was undermining Roman Catholic teachings on homosexuality and birth control and promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” It also reprimanded the sisters for hosting speakers who “often contradict or ignore” church teachings and for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”
In April, the Vatican announced that three American bishops (one archbishop and two bishops) would be sent to oversee the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (now representing 80 percent of Catholic sisters in the United States) to get the sisters to shape up and conform. Or else…
Climate change in the Catholic Church. How bad will things have to get before people wake up?
Sister Pat: “The question is, ‘Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?’ That’s what we’re asking. … I think one of our deepest hopes is that in the way we manage the balancing beam in the position we’re in, if we can make any headways in helping to create a safe and respectful environment where church leaders along with rank-and-file members can raise questions openly and search for truth freely, with very complex and swiftly changing issues in our day, that would be our hope. But the climate is not there. And this mandate coming from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith putting us in a position of being under the control of certain bishops, that is not a dialogue. If anything, it appears to be shutting down dialogue.”
Doing my own version of multi-tasking, I jumped back to Mark Bittman’s article while listening to Sister Pat.
Mark Bittman: “Some people respond well to ‘Big trouble is coming and we must do something immediately,’ but others are overwhelmed and just turn off….But feelings of helplessness are practically un-American: we have the opportunity to demand principled and independent leadership, if we will only try.”
Then I heard Sister Pat ever more clearly…
“As I read that document, the concern is the issues we tend to be more silent about, when the bishops are speaking out very clearly about some things. There are issues about which we think there’s a need for a genuine dialogue, and there doesn’t seem to be a climate of that in the church right now.”
And she continues, with observations about sexuality: “We have been, in good faith, raising concerns about some of the church’s teachings on sexuality. The problem being that the teaching and interpretation of the faith can’t remain static and really needs to be reformulated, rethought in light of the world we live in.
“And new questions and new realities [need to be addressed] as they arise. And if those issues become points of conflict, it’s because Women Religious stand in very close proximity to people at the margins, to people with very painful, difficult situations in their lives. That is our gift to the church. Our gift to the church is to be with those who have been made poorer, with those on the margins. Questions there are much less black and white because human realities are much less black and white. That’s where we spend our days.”
“A bishop, for instance, can’t be on the street working with the homeless. He has other tasks. But we can be. So if there is a climate of open and trusting and adequate dialogue among us, we can bring together some of those conversations, and that’s what I hope we can help develop in a deeper way.”
Catholic Climate change and heated issues?
Sister Pat on right-to-life: “I think the criticism of what we’re not talking about seems to me to be unfair. Because [Women] Religious have clearly given our lives to supporting life, to supporting the dignity of human persons. Our works are very much pro-life. We would question, however, any policy that is more pro-fetus than actually pro-life. If the rights of the unborn trump all of the rights of all of those who are already born, that is a distortion, too — if there’s such an emphasis on that. However, we have sisters who work in right-to-life issues. We also have many, many ministries that support life….
And the Vatican concern about LCWR’s “radical feminism”?
Sister Pat Farrell again: “Sincerely, what I hear in the phrasing … is fear — a fear of women’s positions in the church. Now, that’s just my interpretation. I have no idea what was in the mind of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, when they wrote that.
“But women theologians around the world have been seriously looking at the question of: How have the church’s interpretations of how we talk about God, interpret Scripture, organize life in the church — how have they been tainted by a culture that minimizes the value and the place of women?”
In his article, Mark Bittman warns: “We may look back upon this year as the one in which climate change began to wreak serious havoc, yet we hear almost no conversation about changing policy or behavior.”
John Greenleaf commented: “All serious conversation — and action — about changing
policy and behavior begins with you and me!”
And here is a picture of Sister Pat, whom the CDF so greatly fears……..
Give us the wisdom, strength, and courage of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli!
Shortly after becoming Pope John XXIII in 1958, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli announced he would call for a second Vatican Council. Immediate reactions were mixed. Leading people in the Curia Romana were negative. Even Giovanni Montini, who later became Pope Paul VI. Montini remarked to a friend: “This holy old boy doesn’t realize what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up.”
John realized very well of course exactly what he was doing……
Pope John’s frequent habit of sneaking out of the Vatican late at night to walk the streets of the city of Rome earned him the nickname “Johnny Walker.”
Very different from his current successor whose nicknames are “God’s rottweiler,” “the Enforcer,” and the “Panzer Pope.”
Pope John was an action man. Fifty years ago he was losing patience with the narrow-minded bureaucratic ecclesiastics at the Vatican. “The time has come,” he told the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Cicognani, ” to put an end to this nonsense.”
“Either the Biblical Commission will bestir itself, do some proper work….and make a useful contribution to the needs of the present time,” John said, or “it would be better to abolish it….”
Pope John was angry at the backward, literalistic views of the Biblical Commission and its attacks against Cardinal Agustin Bea, Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, where progressive approaches to biblical scholarship were favored.
Come Holy Spirit!
Help us put an end to contemporary church nonsense!
Come Holy Spirit!
Bless those who question, search, and challenge!
Come Holy Spirit!
Fill us with the faith and courage that animated Pope John!
Maybe the old boys club would just like to have a church full of old boys.
According to David Crary, writing for the Associated Press, Girl Scouts USA is now suspected of deviant thinking and wayward behavior by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
At issue are USCCB concerns about program materials that some conservative US Catholics find offensive, as well as assertions that the Girl Scouts associate with other groups holding positions that “conflict with church teaching.” The Scouts deny the claims and defend their alliances.
The US bishops’ inquiry coincides with the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary celebrations. In effect the Catholic hierarchy is saying: Unhappy Birthday you naughty girls!
What terrible things have the Scouts been doing?
Last year, the Scouts angered some conservatives by accepting into a Colorado troop a 7-year-old transgender child who was born a boy but was being raised as a girl.
Some of the concerns raised by Catholic critics are recycled complaints that have been denied by the Girl Scouts’ head office repeatedly and categorically. It says it has no partnership with Planned Parenthood, and does not take positions on sexuality, birth control and abortion. “It’s been hard to get the message out there as to what is true when distortions get repeated over and over,” said Gladys Padro-Soler, the Girl Scouts’ director of inclusive membership strategies.
Girl Scout leaders hope the bishops’ apprehensions will be eased once they gather information. But there’s frustration within the iconic youth organization — known for its inclusiveness and cookie sales — that it has become such an ideological target, with the girls sometimes caught in the ideological crossfire.
To the Girl Scouts, some of the attacks seem to be a form of guilt by association. Critics contend that Girl Scouts materials shouldn’t contain links to groups such as Doctors without Borders, the Sierra Club and Oxfam because they support family planning or emergency contraception.
Another complaint involved a Girl Scout blog suggesting that girls read an article about the Girl Scouts’ CEO, Anna Maria Chavez — who is Catholic — in Marie Claire magazine. Critics said the blog’s link led to a Marie Claire home page promoting, among other items, a sex advice article.
With the USCCB now getting involved, the stakes are high. The Girl Scouts estimate that one-fourth of their 2.3 million youth members are Catholic, and any significant exodus would be a blow given that membership already is down from a peak of more than 3 million several decades ago.
The inquiry coincides with a broader effort by the bishops to analyze church ties with outside groups. Rhoades’ committee plans to consult with Girl Scouts leaders and with the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, which has been liaising with the Scouts for two years about various complaints that alarm our bishops.
Our bishops remain silent of course about ongoing sexual abuse within the church and past and present episcopal coverups.
And speaking of coverups, I found it highly symbolic that the bishops covered up the big sign (see below) in front of their Washington DC office building, when protesters gathered their to protest the bishops’ crackdown on women religious.
Please note: they did not cover up Jesus. Maybe Jesus put up his arm and warned them: “Keep your hands off me!” Good advice for sure.
There is a sinister spirit pontificating in contemporary Roman Catholic leadership. It is a kind of religious fundamentalism; and it is unwelcome, unhealthy, and unacceptable.
In the name of orthodoxy, today’s Catholic fundamentalists condemn and denigrate believers who study, ask questions, and call for a serious discussion. Increasingly silent about about sexual abuse in the church, and about past and present episcopal complicity in sexual abuse, they shout instead about the evils of questioning celibacy for ordained ministers, respecting the nature and dignity of gay men and women, and asking why women cannot be ordained.
Men in Renaissance robes who loudly proclaim “respect or life” are working overtime to squeeze every bit of life out of their church. People who challenge their authoritarian crack-down are labeled “disobedient,” or “anti-Catholic,” or “in grave sin.” Priests are silenced and removed from leadership positions and theologians are condemned, often without any genuine discussion about their research and thought. There is a major Catholic exodus from the church and our bishops applaud it as a necessary institutional purification.
We are not living in the middle ages. Every man and every woman has dignity and rights: to be, to enquire, to think, and to express one’s thoughts.
And every Roman Catholic man and every Roman Catholic woman has rights stated and guaranteed in Roman Catholic Church law.
Here a few significant Catholic rights (and the number of the canon in church law that affirms it):
All Catholics have the right to follow their informed consciences in all matters. (C. 748.1)
Officers of the Church have the right to teach on matters both of private and public morality only after wide consultation with the faithful prior to the formulation of the teaching.4 (C. 212, C. 747, C. 749, C. 752, C. 774.1)
Decision-making and Dissent
All Catholics have the right to a voice in all decisions that affect them, including the choosing of their leaders. (C. 212:3)
All Catholics have the right to have their leaders accountable to them. (C. 492, C. 1287.2)
All Catholics have the right to form voluntary associations to pursue Catholic aims including the right to worship together; such associations have the right to decide on their own rules of governance. (C. 215, C. 299, C. 300, C. 305, C. 309)
All Catholics have the right to express publicly their dissent in regard to decisions made by Church authorities. (C. 212:3, C. 218, C. 753)
All Catholics have the right to be dealt with according to commonly accepted norms of fair administrative and judicial procedures without undue delay. (C. 221:1,2,3, C. 223, 1,2)
All Catholics have the right to redress of grievances through regular procedures of law. (C. 221:1,2,3, C. 223:1,2)
All Catholics have the right not to have their good reputations impugned or their privacy violated. (C. 220)
Ministries and Spirituality
All Catholics have the right to receive from the Church those ministries which are needed for the living of a fully Christian life, including:
a) Instruction in the Catholic tradition and the presentation of moral teaching in a way that promotes the helpfulness and relevance of Christian values to contemporary life. (C.229:1,2)
b) Worship which reflects the joys and concerns of the gathered community and instructs and inspires it.
c) Pastoral counseling that applies with love and effectiveness the Christian heritage to persons in particular situations. (C. 213, C. 217)
Catholic teachers of theology have a right to responsible academic freedom. The acceptability of their teaching is to be judged in dialogue with their peers, keeping in mind the legitimacy of responsible dissent and pluralism of belief. (C. 212:1, C. 218, C. 750, C. 752, C. 754, C. 279:1, C. 810, C. 812)
Social and Cultural Rights
All Catholics have the right to freedom in political matters. (C. 227)
All Catholics have the right to follow their informed consciences in working for justice and peace in the world. (C. 225:2)
All employees of the Church have the right to decent working conditions and just wages. They also have the right not to have their employment terminated without due process. (C. 231:2)
For a more complete explanation of Catholic rights and responsibilities, please consult:
Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior using force or coercion to afflict others.
Bullying consists of three basic types of abuse – emotional, verbal, and physical. It can use subtle methods of coercion such as intimidation or not so subtle methods involving condemnation and punishment. It is always destructive and demeaning. Bullying has no place within the community of faith.
Bullying can range from simple one-to-one bullying to more complex institutionalized bullying in which the bully may have one or many “lieutenants” who assist the primary bully in his or her bullying activities.
Reviewing events of the past couple weeks, it is clear that contemporary Roman Catholic leadership in Rome, along with the Vatican’s lieutenants in the USCCB, have launched an aggressive program of Catholic bullying.
(1)Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky said during a Sunday homily at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois that President Obama is following previous governments that “tried to force Christians to huddle and hide only within the confines of their churches.”
“Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care,” the (Peoria) Journal Star and Chicago Tribune quoted Bishop Jenky as saying during the homily. “In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda – now seems intent on following a similar path.”
(2) SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns and others). It is an independent and confidential organization, with no connections with the church or church officials. SNAP is now being bullied and attacked by Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn and his lawyers. SNAP is fighting hard to protect the confidentiality of victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, police, prosecutors. Bishop Finn, by the way, is making other headlines these days as well.
The first criminal case against a sitting U.S. Catholic bishop in the decades-long clergy sex abuse crisis will go forward after a Missouri judge’s decision that Bishop Robert Finn, head of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, must stand trial on charges of failing to report suspected child abuse. The charge against Finn centers on the case of Fr. Shawn Ratigan, a diocesan priest who was arrested last May on charges of possession of child pornography. While the bishop said he was aware of questionable images on the priest’s laptop as early as December 2010, Ratigan was not reported to police by the diocese until May 2011.
In separate indictments in October, prosecutors charged both Finn and the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese as a whole with criminal misdemeanors in the case.
(3) The most outrageous case of current Roman Catholic hierarchical bullying of course is CDF Cardinal William Levada’s doctrinal “assessment” of LCWR, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
The leadership and members of LCWR, the largest leadership organization for U.S. women religious, are “stunned” by the announcement that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has ordered a reform its statutes and has appointed an American archbishop to oversee its revision.
“The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” LCWR said in a news release. “Because the leadership of LCWR has the custom of meeting annually with the staff of CDF in Rome and because the conference follows canonically-approved statutes, we were taken by surprise.”
The Vatican announced it had appointed Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain to oversee LCWR, which has been the subject of a doctrinal assessment by the Vatican congregation since 2009.
According to the document from the congregation, Archbishop Sartain is given authority over the group in five areas, including:
(1) Revising LCWR statutes;
(2) Reviewing LCWR plans and programs;
(3) Creating new programs for the organization;
(4) Reviewing and offering guidance on the application of liturgical texts; and
(5) Reviewing LCWR’s affiliations with other organizations, specifically NETWORK and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes.
The document from Cardinal Levada’s CDF re-emphasizes the reason for the doctrinal assessment, writing that Levada told LCWR leadership in 2008 that the congregation had three major areas of concern with the group:
(1) The content of speakers’ addresses at the annual LCWR assemblies;
(2) “Corporate dissent” in regarding the church’s sexual teachings;
(3) “A prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” present in some of the organizations programs and presentations.
Why Bishops Bully:
Bullying research indicates that adults who bully have personalities that are authoritarian, and they have a strong need to control or dominate. A prejudicial view of subordinates can also be a particularly strong factor.
Psychologists stress that a bully reflects the environment of his “home,” repeating the model he learned from his parents or superiors. In Roman Catholic history, we call this Roma locuta, causa finita: “Rome has spoken and the matter is closed.”
Bullying studies also show that envy and resentment are often key motives for bullying. Some bullies are arrogant and narcissistic. Others use bullying as a tool to conceal shame or anxiety or to boost self esteem: by demeaning others, the abuser him/herself feels empowered.
There is something terribly dysfunctional in Pope Benedict’s Reform of the Reform….I miss Pope Benedict’s enyclical: Deus caritas est! (GOD IS LOVE.)
When the Massachusetts legislature voted in 1966 to end the last all-out ban on contraceptives in the United States, it was with the approval and assistance of the Boston Archdiocese
On February 15, 1963, Boston’s Cardinal Richard James Cushing (1895–1970) was the guest on “Conversation Piece,” an afternoon talk show on local radio station WEEI….Cushing addressed public concerns about the role of the Catholic Church in politics.
As President Kennedy himself had done, Cushing offered the assurance that Catholics did not believe religious viewpoints should control political decision making in the democratic arena.
The leader of 1.8 million Catholics in the Boston Archdiocese, Cushing told the radio audience that he had no desire to impose the Church’s moral judgments, by using his considerable influence over Massachusetts legislation, on people of other faiths.
— This memory refresher comes from Seth Meehan a Ph.D. student in history at Boston College. His article titled “From Patriotism to Pluralism: How Catholics Initiated the Repeal of Birth Control Restrictions in Massachusetts,” apeared in the Catholic Historical Review in July 2010. His article earned Meehan the Peter Guilday Prize from the American Catholic Historical Association
Having failed to convince American Catholics to follow their hard-line ban on contraception, American Catholic bishops are ignoring the consciences of those who work for them by seeking to impose their extremist beliefs on all women, Catholic or otherwise.
The current issue of course is the January 20th announcement by the Obama administration’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, that religious organizations could delay but not opt out of a requirement that all health plans cover contraception and sterilization in health-insurance coverage.
Catholic bishops across the United States have begun not just a spirited but a fierce anti-Obama administration campaign.
New York’s next cardinal, Archbishop Timothy Dolan feels “terribly let down, disappointed and disturbed.” In Phoenix, on January 25th, Bishop Thomas Olmsted declared: “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.”
Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh, in a column titled “To hell with you,” wrote that the Obama administration is saying: “To hell with your religious beliefs. To hell with your religious liberty. To hell with your freedom of conscience. We’ll give you a year, they are saying, and then you have to knuckle under.”
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Ill., enlisted the aid of St. Michael the Archangel in fighting “this unprecedented governmental assault upon the moral convictions of our faith.” In a January 24th letter to Catholics in Peoria, Bishop Jenky has mandated that the prayer of St. Michael be recited “for the freedom of the Catholic Church in America” during Sunday Masses at every parish, school, hospital, Newman center, and religious house in the diocese. Older Catholics will remember that that prayer ends: “Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil” and “cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.”
What’s happening here?
Who’s view of reality is more “real”?
Who’s understanding of “conscience” is more authentic.
Where do we go from here?
With all due respect to bishops Dolan, Olmsted, Zubik, and Jenky, I find the vision of my old moral theologian hero, Bernhard Häring, much more real and certainly much more hope-giving:
“Despite a certain trend towards conservatism in parts of the church and society, I am convinced that we have moved into a new era that will be determined by people who live by their own conscience and are particularly qualified to act as discerning members of community and society…the era in which almost everyone was content to be born and to live as a member of a certain church or ‘organized religion’ is over. The people who will shape the future of believers of all religions are those who have the courage to make their own choice, whatever pain may be involved, and to do so with personal responsibility.”
Theologians can be a “curse and affliction upon the church,” according Capuchin Fr. Thomas Weinandy, Executive Director of the USCCB Secretariat for Doctrine.
Thomas Weinandy remember is director of the bishops’ committee that recently condemned Sr. Elizabeth Johnson’s book on the Trinity, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. Weinandy’s committee said Elizabeth Johnson’s book “completely undermines the Gospel and the faith of those who believe in the Gospel.” Strange talk from a fellow who is supposed to know what theology is all about.
The Board of Directors for the Catholic Theological Society of America responded to the USCCB Committee’s critique by noting that Weinandy’s committee demonstrated a “deficient” reading of Professor Johnson’s work as well as a “narrow understanding” of the work of theologians.
In their statement the board of directors stressed, what any good theologian should know and understand:
Theologians throughout history have promulgated the riches of the Catholic tradition by venturing new ways to imagine and express the mystery of God and the economy of salvation revealed in Scripture and Tradition. This is a Catholic style of theological reflection that very many Catholic theologians continue to practice today. The teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) is especially eloquent on this responsibility:
“From the beginning of its history [the church] has learned to express Christ’s message in the concepts and languages of various peoples, and it has also tried to throw light on it through the wisdom of philosophers, aiming so far as was proper to suit the gospel to the grasp of everyone as well as to the expectations of the wise. This adaptation in preaching the revealed word should remain the law of all evangelisation.… It is for God’s people as a whole, with the help of the holy Spirit, and especially for pastors and theologians, to listen to the various voices of our day, discerning them and interpreting them, and to evaluate them in the light of the divine word, so that the revealed truth can be increasingly appropriated, better understood and more suitably expressed.” (#44)
USCCB theologian Weinandy, on the other hand, sees theologians as propagandists for the institutional church. Their responsibility, says Weinandy is one of “promoting, advancing and defending” philosophical and theological truth as taught by the church.
In fact…..ever since Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), Catholic theologians have clearly understood the theological task as one of “Faith seeking understanding.”
If Thomas Weinandy and his committee were my students I would send them all back to school: for remedial theological education.